A recent keen insight from psychology is that people have differing personal spiritual temperaments. Recognizing these differences opens up more valuable ministry opportunities.
A spiritual temperament is the way each of us personally relates to God best and most naturally. Spiritual temperaments influence where and how we most often sense God speaking to us, refreshing us, and stirring our passion for Him.
At church I have observed a group of members who gravitate toward each other and are eager to help those who need special care, especially when they are in wheelchairs. Praise God for their shared temperament. This is a form of pastoral care, considered basic to professional ministry. I have had training and know what to do. But I don’t jump at opportunities. My spiritual temperament is different.
Gary Thomas in Sacred Pathways has done the most helpful work on identifying differing spiritual temperaments. There is no right or wrong temperament. These are givens in your personality. He offers questions that are helpful to identify your own main pathways. Nine temperaments are listed below:
- The Naturalist: Loving God Out-of-Doors. Finds a walk through the woods to be very conducive to prayer.
- The Sensate: Loving God with the Senses. Wants to be lost in awe, beauty, and splendor of God.
- The Traditionalist: Loving God through Ritual and Symbol. Likes structured worship with symbols and sacraments.
- The Ascetic: Loving God in Solitude and Simplicity. Wants to be left alone in prayer.
- The Activist: Loving God through Confrontation. Serves a God of justice, and church life recharges batteries.
- The Caregiver: Loving God by Loving Others. Serves God by serving others.
- The Enthusiast: Loving God with Mystery and Celebration. Wants to be inspired by joyful celebration.
- The Contemplative: Loving God through Contemplation. Likes images of loving Father and Bridegroom.
- The Intellectual: Loving God with the Mind. Drawn to explore basic issues in theology and church life.
Over the centuries, believers have found ways to be with others of a kindred spirit. Naturalists have been drawn to thirteenth-century Francis of Assisi and this monastic order is still the most popular. The current Pope Francis chose that name to reflect his basic temperament of enjoying ascetic simplicity and natural environments. Sensates gravitate toward others who feel a special connection with God through art and music.
When describing Activists Thomas had in mind social activists who feel a calling to pursue peace and justice, which is a form of piety in many mainline church bodies. That temperament can be expanded to include leaders who like to test out where the Spirit is leading by putting ideas into action and watching the results.
Traditionalists like the assurance that they are approaching God through symbols and formats that have been used for generations. Assurance of continuity with the saints can be very helpful–until it turns into traditionalism that blocks new movements of the Spirit.
Traditional churches have a heritage of leadership by Intellectuals, who like to explore in-depth various shades of differences in understanding the Bible and teachings derived from it. My temperament is that of an Intellectual. Intellectuals typically have a low tolerance for Enthusiasts. One reading of American church history is that those with an Enthusiast temperament broke free from Intellectually dominated traditional churches to form their own church bodies with their own church culture and resources, like Pentecostals today.
Over time believers will sort themselves out to be with others who share their spiritual temperament. That’s what’s happening, I believe, with the non-denominational community church movement gaining momentum in the suburbs. These community churches attract a variety of temperaments.
Young families like to be with others who share the same middle-class hopes and stresses and who like easily accessible insights from an authoritative source, the Bible, on how to raise their families and find fulfillment in their lives. Well-taught and applied, the Bible has good answers.
The withering mainline churches would do well to figure out what spiritual temperament they specialize in. Then they can consider how important will it be to reach beyond their niche.